New Delhi: Tensions had been running high in Tughlakabad, where a temple of Saint Ravidas was demolished on August 10 by the DDA, following the orders of the Supreme Court. Members of various depressed sections of society had issued warnings against the demolition.
On Wednesday, lakhs of people from Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and several other states assembled in Ramlila grounds to register their protest. They argued that if Ram temple couldn't be relocated from Ayodhya, why the followers of Ravidas should allow the 500-year-old temple to be relocated.
"Those who are asking us to simply relocate our temple, are often the same people who have been agitating for Ram Mandir for the past several decades. Why the double standards when it comes to the rights of schedule castes?" asks Rakesh Bahadur, executive president, All India Ambedkar Mahasabha, who led a number of protesters from Haryana to Delhi.
However, the protest ended up being discussed not for its central demand - the reinstatement of Ravidas temple by November 26 following which Dalit organisations across the country have threatened a pan-India protest - but for the violence that unfolded in various parts of the city late night.
Police detained several protesters, including Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, and alleged that the protesters became "unruly and violent". However some Dalit leaders who participated in Wednesday's protests blame the state for the incidents of violence.
"Our agitation does not run on hired goons. Our agitation was a result of a genuine pain that people from across the country felt at the demolition of the temple of our revered saint. Similar colour was given to our Bharat Bandh protests on April 2 last year when violence was forced upon us," said Ashok Bharti, a Dalit rights activist.
He added: "And yesterday (Wednesday) also the same modus operandi was followed. If we remained "ruly" throughout the day - during the agitation at Ramlila Maidan - and other places, why would we commit violence at the end of a long day?"
Binoy Korivi, a Dalit activist and member of Dalit Bahujan Group, who led a team of protesters from Andhra Pradesh, said there is a separate cult among the scheduled castes for Saint Ravidas because there is no space in the larger Hindu society for him. “He is not like an ordinary TV guru for us. Please understand he's our spiritual guru."
If the argument, based on which the demolition of the temple has been carried out, that it was built on forest land is to be implemented across the board, Korivi argued, then you would have to also demolish the Sabarimala temple, Tirupati temple, Jaggi Vasudev's Coimbatore ashram and the Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga located in Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh.
"The legacy and teachings of Ravidasji are part of our culture. Most of the people from depressed sections of the society classes are followers of Ravidasji's teachings. This is an issue of faith of over 30 crore people," Korivi said.
For now, all the protesters have returned to their homes. Dalit organisations say they will stick to the deadline of November 26. If the government doesn't rebuild the temple by then, a pan-India agitation would follow, they threaten. With assembly elections scheduled in Haryana and Delhi, the Ravidas issue could become a political hot potato as well.